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”You shall live long days” – How so?

Right before we begin the High Holiday season, a time which we pray for life, Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institutes of Jewish Studies Inc., explains to us a few mitzvot which can help accomplish this goal. We read in this week’s parsha, about lengthening our days. Read Rabbi Golinkin’s article to find out what you steps you can take today!


According to Rabbi Pinchas Halevi of Barcelona in Sefer Hahinukh — written for his son Yehoshua in the 13th century – the weekly portion of Ki Teitzei contains 74 mitzvot, more than any other parashah, which is 12% of all of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Thus, it’s hard to choose a topic!

Since we are now approximately three weeks before Rosh Hashanah, when we pray for life, I have decided to focus on a phrase that occurs twice in our parashah and a total of 11 times in the Bible. The phrase is והארכת ימים, “and you shall live long days” regarding the mitzvah of removing the mother bird before taking the eggs in Devarim 22 and למען יאריכו ימיך, “you shall live long days” regarding just weights and measures in Devarim 25; along with similar phrases such as למען יאריכון ימיך, and .לא תאריכון ימים עליה

On six occasions, the verses tell us that if you observe all of God’s mitzvot, you will live long lives. For example, in Devarim chapter 32 (v. 46-47): “And he [=Moses] said to them: pay attention to all the things… which you shall command to your children, to be careful to do all the words of this Torah… and in this, you will live long days on the land, which you are crossing the Jordan to inherit.

Therefore, I could conclude this Devar Torah now by saying: if you observe all of the mitzvot, you will live a long life!

However, that is not a realistic demand or expectation. No Jew who has ever lived has ever observed all the mitzvot, one of the reasons being is that many of them are just for Kohanim or just for Temple times, and so on.

It is, therefore, more instructive to examine five specific mitzvot which are also supposed to lead to a long life, two of which are found in our parashah. What are the five mitzvot?

Number 1, monotheism or the opposition to idol worship, as we read in Devarim 30:17-18:

והשתחוית לאלהים אחרים ועבדתם…

לא תאריכון ימים על האדמה

אשר אתה עובר את הירדן לבוא שמה לרשתה.

“And if you bow down to those other gods and worship them…

you shall not live long days on the land

which you are crossing the Jordan to inherit.”


Number 2, kibbud av va’em, honoring one’s parents, as we read in Shemot 20:11:

כבד את אביך ואת אמך

למען יאריכון ימיך

על האדמה אשר ה’ אלהיך נותן לך.

“Honor your father and your mother

so that you should live long days

on the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”


Number 3, honesty in business, as epitomized by eifat tzedek, accurate weights and measures, as we read in this week’s parashah (Deut. 25:15):

אבן שלמה וצדק יהיה לך, איפה שלמה וצדק יהיה לך,

למען יאריכו ימיך

על האדמה אשר ה’ אלהיך נותן לך.

“You must have complete and just weights and measures,

so that you should live long days

on the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”


Number 4, integrity in business, as expressed in a very brief verse found in Proverbs 28:16:   שונא בצע, יאריך ימים;

“He who despises ill-gotten gains shall live long“.


Finally, number 5, tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, “mercy on living creatures,” which we also find in this week’s parashah (Deut. 22:6-7):

כי ייקרא קן ציפור לפניך…

לא תקח האם על הבנים

שלח תשלח את האם ואת הבנים תקח לך

למען ייטב לך והארכת ימים.

“If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest…

you shall not take the mother with the fledglings.

You shall send away the mother, and then you can take the fledglings

so that it should be good for you, and you shall live many days.”


It’s very difficult to observe all 613 mitzvot, but if we set our eyes on five specific mitzvot during Elul, the Ten days of Penitence and throughout the year – that is an attainable goal.

And if you say: but some people observe these mitzvot and do not live a long life?! Indeed, according to the story in Kiddushin 39b and elsewhere, this is the reason that Elisha Ben-Abuya became a heretic!

I would reply that four of these verses about living a long life are couched in the plural. This was stressed by Avraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, d. 1167) in his commentary on the above verse about accurate weights and measures. He says:

כי זה ידוע: כי כל מלכות צדק תעמוד.

כי הצדק כבנין, והעיוות כהריסות [=כהרס] – ברגע ייפול הקיר.

“For it is well-known: for every just kingdom shall stand.

For Tzedek [righteousness] is like a building,

and if it’s twisted it’s like destruction — in a moment, the wall will fall.”


If Jewish society, Klal Yisrael, the collective Jewish people,

believes in God,

honors its parents,

is honest in business,

despises ill-gotten gains,

and cares for animals –

then that society, klal yisrael

“shall live long days on the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”


May we take these mitzvot to heart this Shabbat, during the month of Elul, during the Ten Days of Penitence, and throughout the year.


Shavua Tov from Schechter.


David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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